tn legal

“You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.” — Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish novelist and author (1850-1984)

To pet owners, dogs and cats are more than mere animals — they are part of the family.

For more than 200 years, however, Tennessee pet owners who sued for the death of their pet dog or cat could receive only the monetary value of that pet.

That changed in 2004 when the Tennessee Legislature passed the “Liability for death of pet” law.  This law allows a court to award “noneconomic damages” of up to $5,000 for the loss of a pet that is “normally maintained in or near the household of its owner.”

The “Liability for death of pet” law is published at Tennessee Code Annotated section 44-17-403.

Q. How does Tennessee’s “Liability for death of pet” law work?

Here are the key elements of this law:

(1) If a person’s pet — either a dog or a cat — was killed or sustained injuries resulting in death; and

(2) If the death or fatal injuries were caused by the “unlawful and intentional, or negligent act of another or animal of another;” then

(3) The pet owner can sue the responsible person for the economic value of the pet, plus “noneconomic damages” of up to $5,000, based on the “society, companionship, love and affection of the pet.”

Q. Are there exceptions to this ‘pet damages’ law?

Yes.  If the pet’s death or fatal injury was due to the negligence of another person, then the pet’s death must either have occurred on the property of the deceased pet’s owner or caretaker, or while the deceased pet was under the care and supervision of the deceased pet’s owner or caretaker.

Also, the law does not apply to non-profit organizations or governmental agencies, nor to the killing a dog that was “killing or worrying livestock,” nor in a professional negligence lawsuit against a veterinarian.

Jim Hawkins is a Tennessee general practice and public interest law attorney. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice.  All cases are different and need individual attention.  Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. To suggest future column topics, call (615) 452-9200.

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